Develop Your Hidden Opportunity Pipeline

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I have a confession to make. I have given up on figuring out what people think about the economy. The markets jumped 1500 points in two days—equivalent to people voluntarily stepping into a five-alarm fire, taking the elevator up, and locking the door behind them.

I’m shifting gears away from speculative doom-saying to an authoritative career strategy where I feel both brilliant and capable.  

Simplifying Your Career Strategy

I frequently compare executive careers with a typical go-to-market strategy. 

In the common tongue, that means:

  • Understanding your business and why (your career mission, clarity on your ambition, etc.)
  • Finding your target audience/buyer (company/industry/hiring manager, etc.)
  • Positioning and marketing yourself to that audience (narrative, resume/LinkedIn, networking, thought leadership, etc.)
  • Selling yourself to the target (conversations, interviewing, negotiating, etc.)

…and so forth.  

When you map out the process to help yourself grow, it’s pretty darn close to how businesses grow. 

As you progress in your career, you will recognize that many, many, many business models obsess about revenue. They do this via forecasts and pipelines. More specifically, the efficiency of how new sales move through a pipeline so they can better forecast future revenue.

You can apply this same principle to your career to strategically achieve the goals you want. 

The 3 Tiers of (Career) Lead Sources

Such as finding sales leads for a business, there are several lead sources or channels to explore for your career. 

The good news is that your career is much less complicated than a multi-functional growth model for a business. As a result, the channels you concentrate on are limited and easier to understand. 

For example, there are job boards, recruiters, networking—and other nuanced approaches that the average person wouldn’t consider.

The bad news is that since there are fewer channels and less complexity, there is more competition, and it’s more challenging to differentiate your product (e.g., you). 

Let’s delve deeper.

Job Boards 

Job boards are the most inefficient way to find executive opportunities. 

Job boards are a public, outbound-centric lead generation source with substantial competition. They’re robotically automated and impersonal—and make you feel less than average more often than not. 

Approximately 5% of the time, you make contact. But it’s still a cold lead. 

Executives often have to navigate a junior screening manager and jump through scheduling hoops to speak with someone (whom they’re probably still more qualified).

A savvy executive can learn plenty about a business by assessing their job openings and predicting what stage of growth or industry challenge their working through. But the process is time-consuming, inefficient, and limited. 

Executives are better off using job boards to collect inferences about the business—and then taking their findings to a hiring manager to earn a conversation.

Furthermore, publicly posted jobs that pay more than $200k are rare. Yes, they exist, but sometimes it’s required by the company to build the illusion of outside pressure on a role hired within or from referral.

Pros: Public, informative
Cons: Hyper-competitive, inefficient, catered for middle-management


Executive Recruiters

The typical way executives find opportunities.

A conversation with an executive recruiter is a personal inbound lead for your expertise. What can be better than a warm lead, where you maintain leverage and access unexpected opportunities? 

It’s hard to argue with the value of getting executive recruitment attention, especially when you work with a recruiter that takes an interest in getting to know you by building a long-term relationship. 

However, for many, the timing isn’t right. 

Executives can optimize for attention, obsess over their brand, create excellent content, and do all of the try-hard processes to influence recruiters—but they can’t control serendipity. 

Recruiters work on their client’s behalf—not on the candidate’s behalf. So naturally, they present you and your competition to the client for a decision.

Yes, they will get paid to place you. But they will also get paid to place anyone.

Oh—you want to do something different in your career then you’ve been known to do previously? Such as pivoting your career to a new industry or function? Fuggedaboutit.  

Executive recruiters often work with strict candidate criteria, and client demands searching for someone that has been there and done that—and wants to do it again. That means you best position to meet these industry demands, align your career with the trends, and work to be actively desirable. 

Pros: Inbound, leverage, market intelligence
Cons: Client-focused, random timing, more of the same 

Hidden Job Market (Networking)

Networking is the only way to take full ownership of your career.

The hidden job market is not a gimmick. I’ve studied the concept for nearly a decade and experimented with dozens of so-called executive career solutions and board of directors placement tools (mostly pay-to-play garbage). 

Nothing rivals building deep relationships with other executives. 

Many will say that taking the time to build relationships will take too long, that they don’t have time for it, or that they need something for them of value every moment of networking. Or, “What’s in it for me?”

To those individuals, I say, “Thank you for qualifying yourself out of the upper tier of executive opportunities. Too bad.” 

There is a reason that few people sit on boards. There is a reason that more than 90% of career-driven professionals find themselves mired in mediocrity. There is a reason that people don’t make it. 

It’s a tough thing. To give more than you ask in return for networking properly—and genuinely mean it—especially when the most successful executives have less and less time to give. 

But that’s precisely why the hidden market exists. The most valuable resource that any of us have is TIME. They ain’t printing more of it, and it’s fleeting faster than most of us would like. 

How you spend your most precious resource speaks volumes about what you value in your life. 

Furthermore, concentrating on networking is the only opportunity-building strategy that works when you don’t. We love automated processes in the tech world—and smart networking means that people will naturally talk about you and try to help you while you sleep. 

Why grow all alone when you can have an always-on army in your network supporting you? (Read about CORE if you need to dial in the process and habits

Pros: Personal introductions, differentiated approach, less competition
Cons: Time, energy


Your Network Is Your Net-Worth

I learned this from repeatedly getting my butt kicked by executives. 

I have helped hundreds of executives negotiate greater than 100k+ compensation increases in their careers. (And about half a dozen with 7-figure swings). I recently calculated that I had negotiated over $50M in annual compensation increases for my clients. 

Not so humble brags aside, the point is—many of these executives have said, “That’s great, Jacob, but that introduction you made to so-and-so has been the most valuable connection in my career.”

Humbling feedback, brah. 

Anyone that knows me will tell you I have a fragile ego. Hearing that over and over is earth-shattering. But profound. How can an introduction be worth more than making a hundred grand? What exactly is the value of a career-defining relationship?

Build Your Hidden Job Market Pipeline

Enough pontificating. It’s time for brass tacks. 

To build your hidden job market pipeline, you must concentrate on building smart networking habits. 

It’s not about energy spikes or taking 15 phone calls a day. It’s not about forcing extroversion or refreshing LinkedIn for hours (I tried that). You will burn out and be frustrated with the results.

Smart networking boils down to mindset and habit. A consistent effort you can throttle up or down depending on your busyness or sense of urgency. 

Open your calendar and schedule a 30-minute time block for networking. Make it recur weekly. 

Use this time to think about someone that you can help, reconnect with a friend, or use the time to connect with new folks via LinkedIn or other channels.

Commit to a weekly goal. A KPI, if you will. I recommend you target 1-2 conversations or in-person lunch dates per week. That’s enough to develop a habit.

Be a human and have a conversation without expecting anything in return. Instead, build rapport and ask how you can be helpful. 

Rinse and repeat. Scale up as appropriate. And if you run out of networking juice, circle back and ask, “Thanks for learning more about where I’m headed. Do you have three people that I can connect with deeper?”

Now you’re waterfalling your networking efforts, and others are helping you expand. 

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